China in Africa: Cooperation, debates and challenges

From: Updated: 2014-01-20 17:25
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In recent years, along with the development of Chinese economy, the trade between China and Africa has achieved significant process. Since 2009, China has become the largest trade partner of Africa. In 2012, the trade between China and Africa has reached 198.5 billion dollar, with a year-on-year rise of 19%. Even when facing the decline of direct investment global-wide, the investment from China to Africa continue to increase. By the end of 2012, the total amount of Chinese direct investment to Africa has risen to 20.7 billion dollar, with over 2000 Chinese companies investing in Africa. [details]  

China-Africa trade is a win-win and mutual-beneficial economic activity, which plays a unreplaceable role in the social-economic development in both sides. On one hand, the products exported from China to Africa are overall with high quality and low prices, which kindly meet the consuming needs of African people from different social classes. On the other hand, along with the increase of China importing, such as, oil and agricultural products, from Africa, the products exported from Africa obtained a better market as well as a better price. [details]

Doubts and Reponses

However, along with the development of China-Africa relationship, doubts about the motivations behind China’s active engagement in Africa come along. These doubts negatively affect the economic cooperation between China and Africa. Specifically, there are two major arguments as following.

China, as a neo-colonialism state in Africa?

In general, this argument regards the motivation behind China’s engagement in Africa is to gain the natural resources in African countries. For instance, when speaking of China’s investment in Africa, Jack Straw, the former British foreign secretary argued that what China currently did in Africa was no difference to what Britain did 150 years ago, which both seek for the natural resources in Africa. Facing such an argument, Junbo Jian, a researcher from Fudan University responded to this doubts in his paper “China’s role in Africa” in detail. [details]

The road built by China for The Democratic Republic of Congo (Picture from People's Daily)

First of all, Jian argues that China has no motivation to conquer any African states due to the shared similar invasion history. Similar to African states, China also has been through invasion from other states. For instance, China has never built any military bases in Africa, while, on the contrary, military bases built by western states are located in numerous places in Africa .

Second, the economic relationship between China and Africa is based on the mutual benefit. Chinese investment without any political condition has largely benefit African economy. For instance, in 2010, the African states, who exports a lot to China, enjoy a high economic increasing rate, for instance, Angola,27%, Mauritania , 26.7%, Congo,25.9% ,etc. , according to an interview from Economical Daily on Martin Davis, an expert on China from South Africa. [details]

Finally, China has undertaken a large sum of construction projects on Infrastructures, such as railway, hospitals and schools, despite these projects are with a really low profit. [details]

China, as an obstacle of the democratic transition of African states in Africa?

Such an argument points finger at China’s non-intervention policy. People, who support the argument, believe that the non-intervention policy is actually a support to the dictatorships in Africa implicitly. For instance, the commentary paper Patron of African Misgovernment published by New York Times in 2007 argues that “China isn't the first outside industrial power to behave badly in Africa. But it should not be proud of following the West's sorry historical example.” However, such an argument in fact is a typical application of using western value to judge the development mode of developing countries, which is absolutely biased. [details]

Chinese workers assist the construction of infrastructures in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Picture from People's Daily)

First of all, activities like promoting China-Africa trade and helping build the Infrastructures help African people to build a solid economic and human resource foundation for achieving democracy and good governance. The development mode of African states should be decided by no others than African people themselves. Merely applying the western developing mode actually may not bring the development, but rather a decline. One typical example would be the shock therapy conducted by Russia after the collapse of USSR. Rome is not built in one day, so does democracy. [details]

Second, on one hand some states continue to judge China’s engagement in Africa, but on the other hand, do these states really care about the development of African countries? For instance, if they do care, why little intervention has been done in the 1994 Rwanda tragedy, when nearly 800,000 people dead?!

We do not deny that Western states do make some efforts in assisting the economic and political development in Africa, but this does not give them the right to judge the efforts and motivation of China in assisting Africa.


Along with the rapid change of international society, China needs to clearly aware the importance of the increasing influence of Africa in the world stage. How to well deal with the Sino-Africa relationship will be an important issue in the future Chinese foreign policy. [details]

Chinese worker and African workers (Pictures from Internet)

To balance the relationship with different African states

An earlier article from The Diplomat suggests that there is a huge difference on the bilateral trade between China and resourceful African states, and the trade between China and Africa states without rich natural resources. Those states exporting oil and natural resources to China enjoy a significant surplus in the bilateral trade with China, while states without many natural resources run a deficit in the bilateral trade. Such an unbalanced economic relationship may affect China’s further economic activities in Africa. [details]

Regulation needed for Chinese economic activities in Africa

Li Anshan, the director of African research center, Peking University, suggests that the recent protests in Africa aiming at Chinese may imply that some Chinese’s activities in Africa have affected the daily life of local residents there. For instance, some Chinese businessmen sell products with a lower price, which have affected the market of some local stores, and some even have to shut. One the other hand, largely hiring Chinese labors in the constructions in Africa may have threatened the local labor market. In this sense, how to regulate some misbehaved economic activities in Africa may be another issue that China needs to seriously think about. [details]

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